Restaurant Review: Howard's, Elland Road Stadium

Think of food at football and the results aren't always particularly appetising.

A greasy burger before the game, perhaps, followed by a chicken balti pie at half-time and a Wagon Wheel after the final whistle.

Fine as far as they go, Oliver supposes, but they're never going to be everyone's cup of tea or even Bovril.

There is, however, a helping of good news for those who fancy some beautiful food to accompany the beautiful game – the times they are a-changin'.

Football these days is big business and with that comes the opportunity to cater for corporate clients and fans – as well as regular restaurant goers – who are looking for a meal that's a little more sophisticated than your average terrace tucker.

And proof, if any were needed, of the shift in tastes is provided by the opening of Howard's at Leeds United's Elland Road ground.

The venue is dedicated to the club's second most successful manager, Howard Wilkinson. And just like the no-nonsense Yorkshireman, the restaurant has something of a no-frills exterior.

Howard's juts on to the corner of the West and South stands and on first glance there is little, aside from its discreet wooden and glass doors, to mark it out from the rest of the stadium.

Inside, though, there's definitely a marked difference.

Classic cream walls are matched with oak-coloured floors and dark wooden tables and chairs.

The roof of the restaurant is a glass dome affair (apparently based on chairman Ken Bates's favourite Monaco eatery) and the open kitchen is all gleaming stainless steel.

As it's almost Christmas when we pitch up, there are also classy wreaths adorning the walls – along with their usual decoration of landscape scenes of Leeds and the surrounding area.

At the entrance is a large reception desk where we are greeted with enthusiasm and led to our table, where we're delighted to discover real linen napkins and, even better, a pleasing lack of starched tablecloth.

We're quickly furnished with leather-bound menus, both a la carte and early bird, and a short but varied wine list, with some interesting house recommendations.

The chef seems to pride himself on using local ingredients and the starters feature several regional specialities. Among the offerings are: tian of Whitby crab with avocado (6.95); Yorkshire free range chicken liver pate (5.95); crispy bacon, mushroom and poached egg (6.95); pan seared scallops (7.95) and Bleikers smoked salmon (8.95).

I went for the wild mushroom and mozzarella risotto (5.95) while my partner opted for the mussels with chilli and tomato (6.95).

The hearty portion of risotto came perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of chew. It was packed with all manner of mushrooms and dotted with fresh tomato, the mozzarella giving it a delightful if slightly unusual stringy quality.

The mussels were the star of the show, however, being served in the pot in which they were steamed. The plump, juicy seafood was smothered in a hot tomato sauce flecked with fresh chilli – the initial heat of which took my mild-mannered partner somewhat by surprise. No matter, though because, seemingly instantly, the intuitive waitress hurried over with a carafe of water and a glass. Very efficient and very impressive.

To accompany our starters, we'd ordered a very reasonably priced bottle of Australian chardonnay (16.50), which was served, not on the table, but in its own napkin-draped bucket and stand. Our waitress again was quick to ensure our glasses were always topped up and was on hand – but not intrusive – to answer any questions we had.

Of the nine mains on offer, several were again sourced locally. Choices included corn fed chicken breast from Soames Farm in East Yorkshire (14.95); the Ryedale beef – both fillet (20.50) and sirloin (19.95); Easingwold pork fillet (14.95) and confit of Gressingham duck leg (15.95).

I chose the Ryedale Hereford Cross 8oz fillet steak. It came beautifully charred on the outside but perfectly pink in the middle and was sat atop a stack of wild mushrooms, flamed with brandy. The waitress had earlier pointed out that the chef was happy to change or amend any side dishes to accommodate our personal preferences. To this end, I opted to swap the truffle mash for home-cooked chunky chips. Which, if I say so myself, was an inspired choice as the fries were simply divine.

The steak sliced with barely any effort and simply melted in the mouth, a testament to the quality of the original cut of meat. The wild mushrooms were flavour-packed and the root vegetables glazed to perfection.

As good as mine was, though, I have to admit to a bit of meal envy (again). My partner's roast Nidderdale rack of lamb was sublime. Cooked pink, it came adorned with a herb crust which gave it just the right balance of flavour without overpowering the meat.

The accompanying fondant potato was just as good and we could find nothing to complain about in the crisp green beans and the red wine sauce. Simple but stunning in equal measure.

The local ingredients theme is followed through to the desserts which included a selection of Jennie's ice creams, banoffee pie and seasonal fruit dumplings.

My partner went for the tarte tatin at a very reasonable 3.75, which came as a gigantic helping. The pastry flaked well and the apples were soft but with still a nice amount of bite.

My eyes, however, were drawn to the separate cheese menu which boasts 10 different types of cheese, many of them also local. A regular helping (three varieties) comes in at 6.50 and six different choices is 8.50 – but the plate could easily be shared between two.

In total, including the wine and water, our three-course feast came in 73.85 (service is optional).

It's not exactly a steal, but it's far from being expensive either and, to my mind, the exemplary service alone makes it worth every penny.

So, while the club might be eyeing a return to the Premiership, it seems Howard's is already in the top flight.

FACTFILE

Howard's, Elland Road Stadium, Leeds, LS11 0ES

Telephone: 0113 367 6032

Opening times: Mon - Fri 12pm - 2.30pm and 6pm - 10.30pm; Saturday: (non-match) 6pm to 11pm; Saturday: (match) 12pm - 2.30pm and 5.15pm to late. Sunday: closed.

STAR RATING

FOOD............................. **** VALUE........................... ****

ATMOSPHERE................ ***

SERVICE ...................... ****

***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD

*** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR

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